The Picture of Dorian Gray

by: Oscar Wilde

Chapter 9

Full text Chapter 9

Chapter 9

As he was sitting at breakfast next morning, Basil Hallward was showninto the room.

"I am so glad I have found you, Dorian," he said gravely. "I calledlast night, and they told me you were at the opera. Of course, I knewthat was impossible. But I wish you had left word where you had reallygone to. I passed a dreadful evening, half afraid that one tragedymight be followed by another. I think you might have telegraphed forme when you heard of it first. I read of it quite by chance in a lateedition of The Globe that I picked up at the club. I came here at onceand was miserable at not finding you. I can't tell you howheart-broken I am about the whole thing. I know what you must suffer.But where were you? Did you go down and see the girl's mother? For amoment I thought of following you there. They gave the address in thepaper. Somewhere in the Euston Road, isn't it? But I was afraid ofintruding upon a sorrow that I could not lighten. Poor woman! What astate she must be in! And her only child, too! What did she say aboutit all?"

"My dear Basil, how do I know?" murmured Dorian Gray, sipping somepale-yellow wine from a delicate, gold-beaded bubble of Venetian glassand looking dreadfully bored. "I was at the opera. You should havecome on there. I met Lady Gwendolen, Harry's sister, for the firsttime. We were in her box. She is perfectly charming; and Patti sangdivinely. Don't talk about horrid subjects. If one doesn't talk abouta thing, it has never happened. It is simply expression, as Harrysays, that gives reality to things. I may mention that she was not thewoman's only child. There is a son, a charming fellow, I believe. Buthe is not on the stage. He is a sailor, or something. And now, tellme about yourself and what you are painting."

"You went to the opera?" said Hallward, speaking very slowly and with astrained touch of pain in his voice. "You went to the opera whileSibyl Vane was lying dead in some sordid lodging? You can talk to meof other women being charming, and of Patti singing divinely, beforethe girl you loved has even the quiet of a grave to sleep in? Why,man, there are horrors in store for that little white body of hers!"

"Stop, Basil! I won't hear it!" cried Dorian, leaping to his feet."You must not tell me about things. What is done is done. What ispast is past."

"You call yesterday the past?"

"What has the actual lapse of time got to do with it? It is onlyshallow people who require years to get rid of an emotion. A man whois master of himself can end a sorrow as easily as he can invent apleasure. I don't want to be at the mercy of my emotions. I want touse them, to enjoy them, and to dominate them."

"Dorian, this is horrible! Something has changed you completely. Youlook exactly the same wonderful boy who, day after day, used to comedown to my studio to sit for his picture. But you were simple,natural, and affectionate then. You were the most unspoiled creaturein the whole world. Now, I don't know what has come over you. Youtalk as if you had no heart, no pity in you. It is all Harry'sinfluence. I see that."

The lad flushed up and, going to the window, looked out for a fewmoments on the green, flickering, sun-lashed garden. "I owe a greatdeal to Harry, Basil," he said at last, "more than I owe to you. Youonly taught me to be vain."

"Well, I am punished for that, Dorian—or shall be some day."

"I don't know what you mean, Basil," he exclaimed, turning round. "Idon't know what you want. What do you want?"

"I want the Dorian Gray I used to paint," said the artist sadly.

"Basil," said the lad, going over to him and putting his hand on hisshoulder, "you have come too late. Yesterday, when I heard that SibylVane had killed herself—"

"Killed herself! Good heavens! is there no doubt about that?" criedHallward, looking up at him with an expression of horror.

"My dear Basil! Surely you don't think it was a vulgar accident? Ofcourse she killed herself."

The elder man buried his face in his hands. "How fearful," hemuttered, and a shudder ran through him.

"No," said Dorian Gray, "there is nothing fearful about it. It is oneof the great romantic tragedies of the age. As a rule, people who actlead the most commonplace lives. They are good husbands, or faithfulwives, or something tedious. You know what I mean—middle-class virtueand all that kind of thing. How different Sibyl was! She lived herfinest tragedy. She was always a heroine. The last night sheplayed—the night you saw her—she acted badly because she had knownthe reality of love. When she knew its unreality, she died, as Julietmight have died. She passed again into the sphere of art. There issomething of the martyr about her. Her death has all the patheticuselessness of martyrdom, all its wasted beauty. But, as I was saying,you must not think I have not suffered. If you had come in yesterdayat a particular moment—about half-past five, perhaps, or a quarter tosix—you would have found me in tears. Even Harry, who was here, whobrought me the news, in fact, had no idea what I was going through. Isuffered immensely. Then it passed away. I cannot repeat an emotion.No one can, except sentimentalists. And you are awfully unjust, Basil.You come down here to console me. That is charming of you. You findme consoled, and you are furious. How like a sympathetic person! Youremind me of a story Harry told me about a certain philanthropist whospent twenty years of his life in trying to get some grievanceredressed, or some unjust law altered—I forget exactly what it was.Finally he succeeded, and nothing could exceed his disappointment. Hehad absolutely nothing to do, almost died of ennui, and became aconfirmed misanthrope. And besides, my dear old Basil, if you reallywant to console me, teach me rather to forget what has happened, or tosee it from a proper artistic point of view. Was it not Gautier whoused to write about la consolation des arts? I remember picking up alittle vellum-covered book in your studio one day and chancing on thatdelightful phrase. Well, I am not like that young man you told me ofwhen we were down at Marlow together, the young man who used to saythat yellow satin could console one for all the miseries of life. Ilove beautiful things that one can touch and handle. Old brocades,green bronzes, lacquer-work, carved ivories, exquisite surroundings,luxury, pomp—there is much to be got from all these. But the artistictemperament that they create, or at any rate reveal, is still more tome. To become the spectator of one's own life, as Harry says, is toescape the suffering of life. I know you are surprised at my talkingto you like this. You have not realized how I have developed. I was aschoolboy when you knew me. I am a man now. I have new passions, newthoughts, new ideas. I am different, but you must not like me less. Iam changed, but you must always be my friend. Of course, I am veryfond of Harry. But I know that you are better than he is. You are notstronger—you are too much afraid of life—but you are better. And howhappy we used to be together! Don't leave me, Basil, and don't quarrelwith me. I am what I am. There is nothing more to be said."

The painter felt strangely moved. The lad was infinitely dear to him,and his personality had been the great turning point in his art. Hecould not bear the idea of reproaching him any more. After all, hisindifference was probably merely a mood that would pass away. Therewas so much in him that was good, so much in him that was noble.

"Well, Dorian," he said at length, with a sad smile, "I won't speak toyou again about this horrible thing, after to-day. I only trust yourname won't be mentioned in connection with it. The inquest is to takeplace this afternoon. Have they summoned you?"

Dorian shook his head, and a look of annoyance passed over his face atthe mention of the word "inquest." There was something so crude andvulgar about everything of the kind. "They don't know my name," heanswered.

"But surely she did?"

"Only my Christian name, and that I am quite sure she never mentionedto any one. She told me once that they were all rather curious tolearn who I was, and that she invariably told them my name was PrinceCharming. It was pretty of her. You must do me a drawing of Sibyl,Basil. I should like to have something more of her than the memory ofa few kisses and some broken pathetic words."

"I will try and do something, Dorian, if it would please you. But youmust come and sit to me yourself again. I can't get on without you."

"I can never sit to you again, Basil. It is impossible!" he exclaimed,starting back.

The painter stared at him. "My dear boy, what nonsense!" he cried."Do you mean to say you don't like what I did of you? Where is it?Why have you pulled the screen in front of it? Let me look at it. Itis the best thing I have ever done. Do take the screen away, Dorian.It is simply disgraceful of your servant hiding my work like that. Ifelt the room looked different as I came in."

"My servant has nothing to do with it, Basil. You don't imagine I lethim arrange my room for me? He settles my flowers for mesometimes—that is all. No; I did it myself. The light was too strongon the portrait."

"Too strong! Surely not, my dear fellow? It is an admirable place forit. Let me see it." And Hallward walked towards the corner of theroom.

A cry of terror broke from Dorian Gray's lips, and he rushed betweenthe painter and the screen. "Basil," he said, looking very pale, "youmust not look at it. I don't wish you to."

"Not look at my own work! You are not serious. Why shouldn't I lookat it?" exclaimed Hallward, laughing.

"If you try to look at it, Basil, on my word of honour I will neverspeak to you again as long as I live. I am quite serious. I don'toffer any explanation, and you are not to ask for any. But, remember,if you touch this screen, everything is over between us."

Hallward was thunderstruck. He looked at Dorian Gray in absoluteamazement. He had never seen him like this before. The lad wasactually pallid with rage. His hands were clenched, and the pupils ofhis eyes were like disks of blue fire. He was trembling all over.

"Dorian!"

"Don't speak!"

"But what is the matter? Of course I won't look at it if you don'twant me to," he said, rather coldly, turning on his heel and going overtowards the window. "But, really, it seems rather absurd that Ishouldn't see my own work, especially as I am going to exhibit it inParis in the autumn. I shall probably have to give it another coat ofvarnish before that, so I must see it some day, and why not to-day?"

"To exhibit it! You want to exhibit it?" exclaimed Dorian Gray, astrange sense of terror creeping over him. Was the world going to beshown his secret? Were people to gape at the mystery of his life?That was impossible. Something—he did not know what—had to be doneat once.

"Yes; I don't suppose you will object to that. Georges Petit is goingto collect all my best pictures for a special exhibition in the Rue deSeze, which will open the first week in October. The portrait willonly be away a month. I should think you could easily spare it forthat time. In fact, you are sure to be out of town. And if you keepit always behind a screen, you can't care much about it."

Dorian Gray passed his hand over his forehead. There were beads ofperspiration there. He felt that he was on the brink of a horribledanger. "You told me a month ago that you would never exhibit it," hecried. "Why have you changed your mind? You people who go in forbeing consistent have just as many moods as others have. The onlydifference is that your moods are rather meaningless. You can't haveforgotten that you assured me most solemnly that nothing in the worldwould induce you to send it to any exhibition. You told Harry exactlythe same thing." He stopped suddenly, and a gleam of light came intohis eyes. He remembered that Lord Henry had said to him once, halfseriously and half in jest, "If you want to have a strange quarter ofan hour, get Basil to tell you why he won't exhibit your picture. Hetold me why he wouldn't, and it was a revelation to me." Yes, perhapsBasil, too, had his secret. He would ask him and try.

"Basil," he said, coming over quite close and looking him straight inthe face, "we have each of us a secret. Let me know yours, and I shalltell you mine. What was your reason for refusing to exhibit mypicture?"

The painter shuddered in spite of himself. "Dorian, if I told you, youmight like me less than you do, and you would certainly laugh at me. Icould not bear your doing either of those two things. If you wish menever to look at your picture again, I am content. I have always youto look at. If you wish the best work I have ever done to be hiddenfrom the world, I am satisfied. Your friendship is dearer to me thanany fame or reputation."

"No, Basil, you must tell me," insisted Dorian Gray. "I think I have aright to know." His feeling of terror had passed away, and curiosityhad taken its place. He was determined to find out Basil Hallward'smystery.

"Let us sit down, Dorian," said the painter, looking troubled. "Let ussit down. And just answer me one question. Have you noticed in thepicture something curious?—something that probably at first did notstrike you, but that revealed itself to you suddenly?"

"Basil!" cried the lad, clutching the arms of his chair with tremblinghands and gazing at him with wild startled eyes.

"I see you did. Don't speak. Wait till you hear what I have to say.Dorian, from the moment I met you, your personality had the mostextraordinary influence over me. I was dominated, soul, brain, andpower, by you. You became to me the visible incarnation of that unseenideal whose memory haunts us artists like an exquisite dream. Iworshipped you. I grew jealous of every one to whom you spoke. Iwanted to have you all to myself. I was only happy when I was withyou. When you were away from me, you were still present in my art....Of course, I never let you know anything about this. It would havebeen impossible. You would not have understood it. I hardlyunderstood it myself. I only knew that I had seen perfection face toface, and that the world had become wonderful to my eyes—toowonderful, perhaps, for in such mad worships there is peril, the perilof losing them, no less than the peril of keeping them.... Weeks andweeks went on, and I grew more and more absorbed in you. Then came anew development. I had drawn you as Paris in dainty armour, and asAdonis with huntsman's cloak and polished boar-spear. Crowned withheavy lotus-blossoms you had sat on the prow of Adrian's barge, gazingacross the green turbid Nile. You had leaned over the still pool ofsome Greek woodland and seen in the water's silent silver the marvel ofyour own face. And it had all been what art should be—unconscious,ideal, and remote. One day, a fatal day I sometimes think, Idetermined to paint a wonderful portrait of you as you actually are,not in the costume of dead ages, but in your own dress and in your owntime. Whether it was the realism of the method, or the mere wonder ofyour own personality, thus directly presented to me without mist orveil, I cannot tell. But I know that as I worked at it, every flakeand film of colour seemed to me to reveal my secret. I grew afraidthat others would know of my idolatry. I felt, Dorian, that I had toldtoo much, that I had put too much of myself into it. Then it was thatI resolved never to allow the picture to be exhibited. You were alittle annoyed; but then you did not realize all that it meant to me.Harry, to whom I talked about it, laughed at me. But I did not mindthat. When the picture was finished, and I sat alone with it, I feltthat I was right.... Well, after a few days the thing left my studio,and as soon as I had got rid of the intolerable fascination of itspresence, it seemed to me that I had been foolish in imagining that Ihad seen anything in it, more than that you were extremely good-lookingand that I could paint. Even now I cannot help feeling that it is amistake to think that the passion one feels in creation is ever reallyshown in the work one creates. Art is always more abstract than wefancy. Form and colour tell us of form and colour—that is all. Itoften seems to me that art conceals the artist far more completely thanit ever reveals him. And so when I got this offer from Paris, Idetermined to make your portrait the principal thing in my exhibition.It never occurred to me that you would refuse. I see now that you wereright. The picture cannot be shown. You must not be angry with me,Dorian, for what I have told you. As I said to Harry, once, you aremade to be worshipped."

Dorian Gray drew a long breath. The colour came back to his cheeks,and a smile played about his lips. The peril was over. He was safefor the time. Yet he could not help feeling infinite pity for thepainter who had just made this strange confession to him, and wonderedif he himself would ever be so dominated by the personality of afriend. Lord Henry had the charm of being very dangerous. But thatwas all. He was too clever and too cynical to be really fond of.Would there ever be some one who would fill him with a strangeidolatry? Was that one of the things that life had in store?

"It is extraordinary to me, Dorian," said Hallward, "that you shouldhave seen this in the portrait. Did you really see it?"

"I saw something in it," he answered, "something that seemed to me verycurious."

"Well, you don't mind my looking at the thing now?"

Dorian shook his head. "You must not ask me that, Basil. I could notpossibly let you stand in front of that picture."

"You will some day, surely?"

"Never."

"Well, perhaps you are right. And now good-bye, Dorian. You have beenthe one person in my life who has really influenced my art. Whatever Ihave done that is good, I owe to you. Ah! you don't know what it costme to tell you all that I have told you."

"My dear Basil," said Dorian, "what have you told me? Simply that youfelt that you admired me too much. That is not even a compliment."

"It was not intended as a compliment. It was a confession. Now that Ihave made it, something seems to have gone out of me. Perhaps oneshould never put one's worship into words."

"It was a very disappointing confession."

"Why, what did you expect, Dorian? You didn't see anything else in thepicture, did you? There was nothing else to see?"

"No; there was nothing else to see. Why do you ask? But you mustn'ttalk about worship. It is foolish. You and I are friends, Basil, andwe must always remain so."

"You have got Harry," said the painter sadly.

"Oh, Harry!" cried the lad, with a ripple of laughter. "Harry spendshis days in saying what is incredible and his evenings in doing what isimprobable. Just the sort of life I would like to lead. But still Idon't think I would go to Harry if I were in trouble. I would soonergo to you, Basil."

"You will sit to me again?"

"Impossible!"

"You spoil my life as an artist by refusing, Dorian. No man comesacross two ideal things. Few come across one."

"I can't explain it to you, Basil, but I must never sit to you again.There is something fatal about a portrait. It has a life of its own.I will come and have tea with you. That will be just as pleasant."

"Pleasanter for you, I am afraid," murmured Hallward regretfully. "Andnow good-bye. I am sorry you won't let me look at the picture onceagain. But that can't be helped. I quite understand what you feelabout it."

As he left the room, Dorian Gray smiled to himself. Poor Basil! Howlittle he knew of the true reason! And how strange it was that,instead of having been forced to reveal his own secret, he hadsucceeded, almost by chance, in wresting a secret from his friend! Howmuch that strange confession explained to him! The painter's absurdfits of jealousy, his wild devotion, his extravagant panegyrics, hiscurious reticences—he understood them all now, and he felt sorry.There seemed to him to be something tragic in a friendship so colouredby romance.

He sighed and touched the bell. The portrait must be hidden away atall costs. He could not run such a risk of discovery again. It hadbeen mad of him to have allowed the thing to remain, even for an hour,in a room to which any of his friends had access.